‘Serenade in Brass’ going strong after 28 years

Hawthonre Caballeros (Hawthorne, NJ)
Photo by Harry Heidelmark

The “Serenade in Brass” drum corps show in Harrisburg, PA, has been continuously running for 28 years, during which time it has become a “drum corps destination” for fans around the country.

The show, its venue, and its production are all first class. “The Forum Building” of the Pennsylvania capital complex is home to Serenade in Brass and the Harrisburg Symphony. The 2000 seat auditorium features plush velvet seats and deep pile carpeting. Above the nearly 100 foot wide stage is a ceiling boasting a fully operational planetarium. A tuxedo clad Larry Hershman (a member of the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame) has been the master of ceremonies for the past 24 years.

For nearly three decades, Serenade in Brass has presented junior corps, senior corps, alumni corps, armed services corps, and some very special non-corps groups. For Serenade’s 10th anniversary even Buddy Rich made an appearance. More than 50 different corps have been represented in the show’s history.

Service corps have been a part of this event almost from the beginning. One Serenade event hosted the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the United States Marines Corps all in one night. It is the only time all four corps have appeared in one place at one time. In the late 1970s and early 1980s “Serenade in Brass” was the first senior corps showdown of the year. The Buccaneers, Westshoremen, and the Yankee Rebels would “do battle” on stage with an occasional appearance by the Caballeros. In the mid-’80s it was the junior corps debuts that dominated the stage. The Bluecoats vs. the Crossmen with an occasional appearance by the Cadets drew the attention of DCI, so much so that “Serenade in Brass” was featured on the PBS/DCI finals telecast. During the mid-1990s, alumni corps came to the forefront and many chose “Serenade in Brass” to make their debut. All the major senior alumni corps, including the Caballeros, Skyliners, Buccaneers, Yankee Rebels, Marksmen, Erie Thunderbirds, Hanover Lancers, Steel City, Archie and the Reilly Raiders have performed at the show.

“Serenade in Brass” is not just a concert; it is truly an event. Friday night is always a mini-reunion at the headquarters hotel with both eager fans and participants arriving and eventually migrating to the lobby or bar. Saturday morning begins with rehearsals at the Forum Building and surroundings areas. The official pre-concert program gets underway at 6:00 PM in the Strawberry Square atrium. An indoor shopping complex is adjacent to the Forum Building. Normally closed on Saturday nights, the courtyard restraints open up for concert goers and several local big band jazz groups perform until just before show time. With the party atmosphere well underway, the crowd moves across the street to the Forum Building and the main event begins.

Performing corps agree this is the premier indoor event anywhere, not only because of the venue, but also because of the enthusiastic audience. The crowd encourages the corps to perform at the top of the performance scale. The corps by virtue of the crowd are driven to shows of extremely high energy.

When the show comes to and end, it’s really not over; to many it’s just the beginning. The post-concert “old fashioned” drum corps party is held within walking distance from the Forum Building at the Crowne Plaza Harrisburg, which is the headquarters for “Serenade in Brass.” This event allows the performers to interact with the fans in what can only be described as “drum corps utopia.” Impromptu smaller ensembles, like the nationally known Hip Pickles, seem to appear out of the crowd in encore performances that continue well into the night.

Performing in the 2003 edition of “Serenade in Brass” are the United States Naval Academy Drum Corps, Syracuse Brigadiers Senior, Hawthorne Caballeros Senior, Reading Buccaneers Senior, Reading Buccaneers Alumni, Mighty St. Joes Alumni, New York Skyliners Alumni, Reilly Raiders Alumni, Westshoremen Alumni, Hip Pickles and The Hitmen.

Information about this event and other Five Star Brass events can be found at www.fivestarbrass.com.